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Sara's Story

I have always been a “planner” – I have everything all figured out way in advance, and even consider several contingencies so I can be sure I am always as prepared as possible.  It’s part of my nature and it’s the only way I feel comfortable and can relax.

When it came to having a baby, there was PLENTY to plan, and having been witness to the parenthood of many family members and friends, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what needed to be prepared, and what sorts of possibilities existed and had to be considered.

I read all kinds of things about having a baby, and among them, how beneficial breastfeeding is for both mother and child.  For me, this was a no-brainer – of course I would breastfeed!

Then my baby was born, and the best day of my life became simultaneously one of the worst.  My doctor found a cyst in my cervix during delivery.  Five days later, I got the call – I had a rare, aggressive form of cancer.  29 years old, with a brand-new baby and a life-threatening disease.

I was visiting the oncologist ten days after the birth of my daughter.  Aggressive disease calls for aggressive therapy, and by the time my daughter was three weeks old, I was beginning chemotherapy.  As difficult as this roller-coaster ride was, one of the most devastating effects for me was the chemotherapy-induced ban on breastfeeding.

I felt my body had betrayed me by developing this horrible sickness, and then I felt disconnected and a bit disgusted by my body as it was being poisoned in order to save my life.  Not being able to share that physical bond with my baby at a time when I was so afraid I would not live to see her grow up was absolutely shattering.

I expressed my concerns to my oncologist in a tearful appointment.  Breastfeeding, something even my planner-mind took for granted as a given, was now an area of battle I had never anticipated.  Because I was so adamant, my doctor worked with me so that I could pump several times each day, dumping the hard-earned milk down the sink each time (boy, that was painful!).  I did this for 6 weeks straight so that, when I had a reprieve from chemotherapy in order to have and recover from surgery, I was able to resume breastfeeding my daughter.

I will never forget that first feeding after all those weeks of pumping-and-dumping.  It was so joyous and heart-wrenching.  I cried nearly the entire time.  Even today thinking back, I can remember that moment so clearly, especially how it felt to hold my child and feed her from my no-longer-poisonous body.

It may seem an extreme example, but as I learned so well, no one really knows what life will bring and how to plan for it.  Sometimes we face the unexpected and can only react in the moment.  I am so thankful I made breastfeeding a priority.  The benefits extended far past those regularly touted by experts.  I was able to connect with my baby and have emotional healing throughout a traumatic ordeal.  It was worth every minute of the struggle.